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Ventura County

Protesters Urge Board to Oust College Chancellor

Education: An audit finds questionable expenses filed by Philip Westin. Panel's president orders a 90-day freeze on travel spending.

June 25, 2002|MARGARET TALEV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Barraged by protests over excessive spending by Ventura County Community College Chancellor Philip Westin, the president of the college board on Monday ordered a 90-day freeze on all travel expenses and a study of other college districts' spending policies.

The action by President Norman Nagel came during a raucous trustees meeting packed with more than 100 protesters who called for Westin's resignation, citing everything from improper meal and car repair expenses to his vindictive treatment of employees.

Some said that had they known about Westin's spending habits they would never have voted for the $356-million construction bond measure, approved in March, that will be used for improvements at the district's three campuses.

"I'm tremendously angry that none of these issues were disclosed in March," said David Maron of Ventura. "I think Dr. Westin should resign. I don't think a tiger can change its stripes."

County Supervisor John Flynn was among a dozen speakers who questioned the trustees handling of Westin's expenditures.

"I hope you still have your moral codes," Flynn said. "If you don't, I would ask you to get one."

Westin sat stone-faced throughout the meeting as his critics assailed him and waived placards, including one that read "Remember Enron" and "Do Not Collect $203,000, Go Directly To Jail," a reference to his salary.

During the meeting, Nagel asked trustees Bob Gonzales and Al Jacobs to form a subcommittee to study spending policies of other college districts and report back to him. He also imposed a freeze on travel expenditures, with any exceptions requiring his approval.

The controversy erupted in March when a Camarillo law firm presented a report on Westin's business expenses to the district's board of trustees. The report covered the period from December 1996 to October 2001 and found $46,000 in questionable expenses, including $22,000 in auto repairs and $7,600 for computer software.

The survey also revealed that Westin had charged $23,000 for business meals from January 1999 to October 2001, which was first reported in the Ventura County Star. Since then, Westin has come under fire for excessive spending practices.

Westin, who was awarded a new four-year contract along with a 16% raise last month, said in an earlier interview that he favored adoption of a new policy that would place strict limits on spending by the chancellor. Westin was given the contract after an auditor hired by the district found no criminal wrongdoing.

Westin has filed a complaint with the state bar, accusing attorney David Bender and his partner, David Wood, of conducting an unauthorized expense report in an attempt to oust the chancellor and gain control of the district's legal services contract, which last year totaled more than $900,000.

Meanwhile, Bender and Wood have filed a claim with the district, stating that their report was authorized by trustee Gonzales and that the law firm is due $61,000 for expenses incurred. The firm hired a Long Beach private investigator to conduct the audit after allegedly being tipped off about Westin's expenses by an unnamed source, according to district documents.

But Gonzales has told district officials that he never authorized the audit and made it clear to the law firm that as a sole trustee he had no power to do so, according to district documents.

Wood said the law firm maintains that its report was authorized and that his firm had "absolutely not" acted improperly.

Wood provided The Times with a copy of a June 18 letter from the bar informing him that the organization had reviewed Westin's complaint and determined "there are insufficient grounds for disciplinary action."

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